REVIEW: Bohemian Rhapsody

Don’t – stop – me – now. I haven’t even started writing yet…

The formidable ageless rock band Queen are gifted the big screen treatment in a film centring around the band’s formation and eventual rise to fame as lead singer, Freddie Mercury, suffers an internal struggle of personal conflict from within the spotlight of the public eye.

I am a fan of Queen – and if we’re being honest here, who isn’t? Everybody has that one song they cherish and head-bob to in the car, whether it’s ‘We Will Rock You’, ‘Somebody To Love’, ‘Radio Ga Ga’ or ‘Fat Bottomed Girls’. Me, personally, it has always been ‘Under Pressure’, and maybe that’s because David Bowie is my favourite artist so that automatically positions the 1981 track as my favourite, but… nobody can go past ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’. It’s an epic, ambitious ballad that defies all genres, highlighting every band member in their own unique way whilst redefining what pop music could be and should be. The song is vast and audacious; its a song of wills, ambiguity, poetry and genius from the mind of one Freddie Mercury. ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ is a song that should not work on any level, but, the thing is, it does. The song dared a generation to be unique – so my question is; does the film, Bohemian Rhapsody, warrant being named after one of the 20th century’s finest works of art? Well, let’s explore that.

Originally, a series of problems bogged down the production behind this Queen-centric project. The original director, the controversial Bryan Singer, was fired midway through production and replaced by capable filmmaker, Dexter Fletcher. Sacha Baron Cohen, who was originally fitted for the role of Mercury, dropped out due creative differences with the remaining Queen band members who were overseeing the project. The film in general has had, what many can consider, a rough time making it to the big screen. So similar to the titular song, Bohemian Rhapsody can genuinely be considered a film that should not have worked, but, kind of does… but also kind of doesn’t.

What can unanimously be agreed upon as a universal positive concerning this film would have to be Rami Malek’s performance as Freddie Mercury. Part of me would still like to have seen what Cohen would have done in his unique way of performance, but Malek’s take on Mercury was so spot on it was rather unbelievable to watch. In fact, as soon as I got home after seeing Bohemian Rhapsody I looked up old Freddie Mercury interviews to draw some sense of comparison between the two, and there you’d have it, Malek could very well have been Mercury’s doppelgänger. From the lip curls to overly-confident speeches to the struts back and forth, on and off stage, Malek’s performance was Freddie Mercury to a T. From start to finish, Malek carried Bohemian Rhapsody upon his shoulders through thick and thin – a true champion – and in any other case I’d predict now that Malek’s performance would make him a heavy contender for Oscar nominations… if only he were in a better film. It pains me to say this but, I was not a huge fan of the Queen-biopic in how it was technically rendered.

bohemian-rhapsody (2)
(Twentieth Century Fox, 2018)

Now the movie was not horrible to watch by any stretch; at best, Bohemian Rhapsody was at least pretty good – it was alright. An entertaining watch that rattled off Queen’s greatest hits, triggering that dopamine rush for fans of the late great Mercury and the fellas of Queen at an alarming rate. The best quality Bohemian Rhapsody would have to offer, other than Malek’s performance, definitely would be its unflinching knack to entertain. Bohemian Rhapsody was an effectively energetic, fast moving film that got the blood pumping and serviced a Queen fan’s thirst and hunger for their favourite songs visualised in a narrative simultaneously worshipping the man who’s voice was behind it all. So, in some cases, I cannot say I was ever bored or uninterested in what Bohemian Rhapsody had to offer over the course of its runtime. The film was light fun; enjoyable and an easy enough crowd pleaser… but it was wrong of me to expect more from a film about one of the music industry’s most fascinating and mysterious individuals?

Freddie Mercury was, and still is, considered a legend. He’s a man that held the world in the palm of his hands for a long period of time and in the midst of crafting songs like ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’, leading a secretive and ambiguous personal life and lighting arenas on fire in grand performances, like that of the Live Aid event back in 1985, Mercury was a human being I think we can all agree we wanted to see explored in depth in the most faithful and richest of character studies. However, Bohemian Rhapsody just failed to really do that.

True, the film was meant to be a tale about the entirety of Queen and not just Mercury; yet, the way the movie pranced and danced and fancied itself as a decorative ode to the life of Mercury above all else, really made for a confused feeling film. It was if the movie tried doing so much stuff in such little time that it appeared too messy for the filmmakers to handle. Bohemian Rhapsody tried pleasing the masses by making a film about the life of Freddie Mercury; it tried pleasing the remaining band members by creating a film about the whole band rather than just their front man; it tried exploring the origins of all Queen’s greatest tracks; it tried telling a safe biographical film that stayed faithful to real events; it even tried bringing Wayne’s World back into the public conscious. Hell yeah Bohemian Rhapsody was an ambitious film… but, unlike the titular, song the film exhibited none of it’s audacious, genius or epic nature. Bohemian Rhapsody was just a movie, plain and simple.

Atop of being unfocused, the movie also just felt like it rushed over too many important personal elements of the Queen story. Bohemian Rhapsody did what could be classed as the bare minimum to create a compelling enough biopic narrative on the level of any other barely passable true story-to-screen productions. I mean, for a movie that literally tried touching on everything and anything, Bohemian Rhapsody was still a film that felt like it was missing something and needed more. In fact, the movie’s biggest sin would be the actuality that it followed the exact instructions of the cinematic music executive who told Queen that the music industry only works in a formulaic structure. And to counteract that, Freddie Mercury basically said “f**k formulas”, going on to create the most daring and experimental song of the 1970s and beyond. So why, was the Freddie Mercury biopic one restrained to a formulaic structure? Bohemian Rhapsody literally begun like any other biopic would, in introducing the underdog protagonist, portraying his hopes and dreams and then having him bring together the ragtag band members and garnering an audience who originally did not believe in him. Then, naturally, the film fell into a repetitive cycle of greatest hit to vignette on Freddie’s life to greatest hit to another vignette on Freddie’s life to greatest hit to another vignette on Freddie’s life to greatest hit to another vignette on Fre- see how tiring it gets?

My thoughts, in summary, are just that the film was meant to deal with telling the story of one of the world’s most creative souls, and despite Malek’s tremendous performance, never did the movie feel like it did the man, the myth, the legend of Freddie Mercury complete justice…

… but you know what. In addition to all of that and atop of all the negatives I have shrouded this movie within, I cannot bring myself to say I disliked this film.

I grew up in a family who worshipped Queen. My parents have loved the Hot Space band for as long as I can remember, and so naturally, I have, since a young age been exposed to the explosive nature of Queen as layered, meaningful artists. Their music has rubbed off on me on ways you can not imagine (especially ‘Under Pressure’ as I previously noted) and a lot of that was due to my parents. So naturally, as an anniversary day present to my folks, I bought them tickets to a Gold Class screening of Bohemian Rhapsody in my company, and the fact is, they loved the film.

I cannot deny the feelings of two true Queen fans, like my parents, towards Bohemian Rhapsody. To them, the film did its job and that’s all a general audience member can ask for. So forgive me for my bias, but for the mere factor this film managed to have myself and my parents enter a complete state of euphoria, in unison, on the drive home listening to some of our favourite Queen songs, I have to say, I too believe Bohemian Rhapsody did it’s job. The movie is far from perfect and, to tell you the truth, if it were not for the fact this movie was about Queen, I would probably give into the negatives and label it dull – but because it is about Queen and plays the chords that mean something to me, the thing is I cannot dislike this movie.

Bias in film criticism is a debatable topic to discuss. I try my best every time to remove any sense of bias when critiquing a picture since I certainly feel it unfair to judge a film on merits personal to myself rather than in generalities… but sometimes, it’s difficult not to. And for a lot of the time, without even noticing, a strong amount of bias can seep into a review. Every critic has their opinion and every critic thinks their opinion is the right one. I am sure many will perceive my enjoyment of Bohemian Rhapsody to be unwarranted in a pure critical analysis of the film, but just for good measure, I wish to use my remaining time writing this review to raise as a few more positives concerning Bohemian Rhapsody in order to garner a level of understanding from where I am coming from.

Other than Malek, the rest of the cast really sold their roles in both action and looks – the latter in particular. The appearance of the actors portraying Queen were so photo realistic it became rather unfunny how well they mimicked the original band in physical accuracy. As I previously noted, the film’s entertainment value really powered most of the narrative as the main focus of these bouts of entertainment came in the very lively and infatuating concert sequences. The onstage moments where the Queen songs really shined and Malek was given enough space to completely embody Mercury would have to be some of the film’s best elements. The climactic Live Aid concert in magnitude and wow factor alone really sold the film on its energetic nature entirely. The visuals and transitions between scenes were spectacular in their own right as I would really draw focus on the moment following the first radio broadcast of ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ as an awesome key visual moment. Also, the cameo appearance of Mike Myers as a music executive, tentative on the success of ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’, really worked as the cherry on top of the cake for me.

I really liked the relationships depicted between Freddie and the most important people in his life like the mysterious Mary Austin along with his other various lovers, his family and the band in general. Queen initially felt like a charming, censored version of the Inbetweeners, which I really enjoyed in their bickering and undeniable Britishness. Though, still I would have liked to have seen a lot of these relationships focused on way more deeply than they were in the movie. Returning to my original point, Bohemian Rhapsody gave us a lot of stuff to observe but never quite gave us enough.

Again though, I want to reiterate that I quite enjoyed Bohemian Rhapsody. I may have not particularly liked it as a film in its technique overall, but for the feeling it gave me and my parents, I cannot deny it did what good cinema does and that is to leave a good taste in one’s mouth – almost like cinema magic. I heard once that the greatest sin a film can commit is to be boring, and at the very least, Bohemian Rhapsody does not do that. The film may not be as impressive in scope and creativity as the titular song (not even close), but, you know what, I like Queen, so it’s hard to disregard this movie completely.

For now, I will give the formulaic biopic storytelling a pass – just for you, Queen. However, if anyone dares make a subpar David Bowie film, I will personally make it my mission to destroy you.

Bohemian Rhapsody is a bloody… CRUSADE!!

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